The jewel case bears the rubric, "25th Anniversary Edition":
presumably this repackaging of previous releases was intended
to commemorate the Chamber Orchestra of Europe's twenty-fifth
anniversary in 2005. Hard to believe the orchestra has already
been around so long!
The diversity of sources notwithstanding, these performances are well-matched:
stylish, unashamed modern-orchestra Mozart, with a consistent
interpretive approach. The first movements of all three scores
sound unusually sprightly; the tempi aren't particularly fast,
but there's an exhilarating buoyancy and lift to the phrasing.
The slow movements flow and sing; any darker undercurrents are
implied rather than underlined. The finales of the solo concerti
are lively and unpressured; that of the Sinfonia concertante,
an Andantino con variazioni, is easygoing and expressive.
Douglas Boyd's Oboe Concerto originally appeared in harness with the
Strauss Concerto, I believe. He dispatches the outer movements
with perky articulations and pinpoint intonation, shaping the
figurations with subtle, musical rubato. In the slow movement,
Boyd uses careful, note-by-note dynamic control to fashion long,
poignant lines; he even maintains interest in the discursive
cadenza, attributed to Lester, which stops just short of meandering.
The finale returns us to the spirit of the first movement.
Richard Hosford's chipper, fluent take on the Clarinet Concerto is
equally distinctive. If I've read the notes correctly, he follows
the lead of other recent soloists in playing on a conjectural
reconstruction of the basset clarinet - the instrument for which
Mozart composed the piece, and which allows access to a few
extra low tones the modern instrument lacks. Hosford maintains
a seamless scale, yet manages, by timbral means, to differentiate
and color three distinct registers within it. He infuses the
clear, brilliant top tones with an airy lightness; there's a
touch of velvet in the midrange - no obvious throaty tones in
the register break; the low chalumeau notes have an unforced
depth. The performance is lovely, with exceptionally poised
phrasing in the Rondo finale.
Authentic or not - the scholars are still arguing - the Sinfonia
concertante for winds is a delightful piece. Boyd and Hosford
- who switches to a modern clarinet here - are joined by bassoonist
Robin O'Neill and hornist Jonathan Williams, who maintain an
equally high standard. Their little duet phrases are breathtaking:
the horn matches the bassoon's fluid ease; the bassoon simulates
the horn's fullness.
I'd not call the orchestral playing particularly trim under either
conductor. The basses are guilty of the occasional unseemly
rumble; on the whole, in fact, the strings sound more focused
for Berglund, a full-time conductor, than for Schneider, a string
man. But everything is shipshape and musically guided; in the
Oboe Concerto's central Adagio, the strings' full-throated
intoning of the broad melodies is a pleasure.
The sound is fine, but the production slips up on details: the booklet
credits a photograph of the COE that isn't anywhere to be found,
and Berglund's name is misspelled on the front cover. Warmly
recommended, if you've not already duplicated these pieces beyond
Stephen Francis Vasta